When TOCA Race Driver 2: The Ultimate Racing Simulator, Codemasters' follow-up to its unique 2002 racer, Pro Race Driver, first debuted on the Xbox earlier this month, it proved to be an excellent addition to the system's racing lineup. It's not quite the ultimate racing simulator that it claims to be, but it's absolutely a game worth playing for any serious racing fan. Now TOCA 2 is available for the PC as well, and much like its Xbox counterpart, it provides an excellent variety of race types, backed up with some solid driving mechanics and a deep and engaging career mode. Unfortunately, the PC version also suffers from a few graphical polish issues as well as some extremely irritating sound bugs, which ultimately mar the game's otherwise solid performance.
TOCA Race Driver 2 is all about variety. Rarely has there been a game that brings as many types of races to the table as this one does. You can choose from a bevy of different race types and concordant cars, including stock cars, rallies, Super Trucks, street racing, Mustangs, Land Rovers, open-wheel racers, and so on. There are 15 different varieties of races in all, each of which is actually represented quite well, both visually and in gameplay. TOCA Race Driver 2 also features a huge roster of more than 50 different worldwide racetracks, ranging from the Texas Motor Speedway to Pikes Peak to Brands Hatch, and more. Every track is extremely well constructed, and serious race fans should find each track immediately recognizable.
The racing mechanics in TOCA Race Driver 2 are primarily geared toward the more realistic ilk of racers. Each type of car handles uniquely and quite accurately. Slideouts usually happen when they should, and wrecking your car adversely affects your ability to race in several different ways. Blowing a tire will obviously kill your ability to steer properly, and thrashing your gearbox affects your acceleration and speed quite a bit. Interestingly enough, TOCA 2 on the PC actually seems easier than the Xbox version, though only when using a gamepad. Controlling slideouts seems much easier to control, and concordantly, braking and using your emergency brake to slide around corners seems almost a bit too effective for some reason. The PC version of the game also features a driving mode that is even more simulation-based than the normal mode, and it is also significantly harder. This mode is especially geared toward players with driving wheel controllers, and for that expressed purpose, it works great, adding more challenge than you would get otherwise.
The only serious complaint about TOCA 2's gameplay stems from the game's physics model, which is a little unreliable in certain situations. Though wrecking into other cars is generally not advised, it's too easy to simply use other cars as padding when sliding around corners. Bumping into the side of an opposing car at the right angle simply prevents you from sliding out, and it usually lets you gain a number of spots in a race pretty cheaply. Furthermore, crashes don't always seem to look or feel as they ought to. This is mainly an issue with bigger crashes, specifically in situations where you should be rolling your car or otherwise sustaining or inflicting a huge amount of damage--and sometimes it doesn't actually happen that way. These physics issues aren't a huge problem by any means, but they're definitely an annoyance. For the most part, the game's racing artificial intelligence is quite well done, and drivers are usually smart enough to avoid wrecks whenever possible. Occasionally you'll encounter a random dolt driver who makes a boneheaded mistake on the track.
Anyone who played Pro Race Driver will remember its unique career mode, which focused on a young, passionate driver named Ryan McKane. The game's method of storytelling gave you a much more unique and prominent look at the behind-the-scenes elements of racing. Though the story was a little on the ham-fisted side in certain spots, overall it did an excellent job of keeping you captivated. In TOCA Race Driver 2, the same method of career mode has been implemented, though with a completely different type of story. In the game, you play as a nameless rookie driver, who, quite literally, begins in a trial by fire. Upon starting the career mode, you begin midlap during a race with your mechanic, Scotty, who is feeding you instructions on your controls. Once the race is over, you are presented with the first of many first-person-perspective cutscenes. As the story progresses, you are approached by an attractive female agent who promises to help bring you to the top of the racing circuit, and much to Scotty's chagrin, you agree to let her help you. The story itself, like its predecessor, can be a bit cheesy at times, but for the most part the cutscenes are so well directed and well written that the few goofy moments become instantly forgivable.
To advance in the career mode you'll have to compete in championships and complete objectives. Objectives vary from championship to championship; some require you only to place at a certain level, and others require you to earn certain amounts of cash prizes. These objectives are usually not too difficult, though often you will find yourself getting frustrated simply because you'll be racing on a new track that you've never experienced before. And, of course, there is no option to take practice laps before a race, so it will require a fair amount of trial and error to learn racetracks, especially when experiencing new car types for the first time. Oddly enough, though, you can participate in qualifying laps outside of the career mode--just not within it. Often, you'll be presented with multiple options for championship types, though there are no options for what racing team you might want to race for and there is no way to determine your own position on the starting line since both are arbitrarily picked for you seemingly at random. On the plus side, the career mode is quite long and should take you a solid eight hours or more to complete the first time around.
Outside of the career mode, you can also take part in free races and time trials offline. You can also play multiplayer in a two-player, single PC mode or go network via online or LAN modes. Each of these modes lets you choose from any of the game's available championships. However, you can't simply pick a car and track and then race. Championship selection effectively takes care of this for you since only certain cars are permitted to race on specific tracks. It's a bit of a confusing interface if you're used to the industry-standard method of just picking a car and track, but overall, it isn't that big of a deal. One major bonus to the noncareer modes is that you can make adjustments to your car. Options such as gears, downforce, suspension, ride height, and tires and brake bias can be adjusted to your personal content, which is nice considering not every track features the same types of terrain.
From a multiplayer standpoint, TOCA Race Driver 2's network component heavily outshines its offline counterpart because it's the difference between only two players offline and up to 12 players online. TOCA Race Driver 2 employs an interesting rating system when playing online--you earn rating points based on your standing in a race. You start at 1500 and gain or lose ranking points depending on how you perform. This rating, in turn, translates into your standing on the leaderboards. Like the Xbox version of TOCA 2, the game's online performance is a bit spotty, and some lag was definitely apparent on almost any connection type we tried; opposing cars would jump and skip around and do some funny things during races. However, this lag never affected our ability to race, nor did it ever become detrimental to our standings.
Graphically, TOCA Race Driver 2 on the PC looks slightly better than the Xbox version, but not quite as much as you might hope when comparing the two versions. The car models are a big step up from Pro Race Driver and look very good overall. Each car features quite a bit of shine off its reflective surfaces, though the models don't seem quite as polished as in the Xbox version of the game where jags and imperfections seem a bit more prevalent. Cranking up the resolution on a high-end PC did help a bit, but not enough to make a supreme difference. Damage modeling is also fairly well done, and there are plenty of ways to bust up your car, if you're so inclined. The one issue we had with the damage modeling is that the modeling itself doesn't always quite match up to the cause of the damage. So, for instance, getting rear-ended on the right side will sometimes cause weird dents on the left side of the bumper that shouldn't be there, and windows and windshields break with almost reckless abandon.
As mentioned before, each of the game's tracks is nicely representative of its real-life counterpart. The tracks and terrain look great, and little touches, like realistic tire skids and pieces of damaged cars that remain on the tracks, add to the realism. Unfortunately, the background environments and crowds don't look nearly as good and are actually visually unpleasant up close. Granted, these aren't details you'll be paying a lot of attention to while in the throes of a race, but they do stick out at times. TOCA Race Driver 2's cutscenes are also very well produced. Though the models for the characters don't always look especially great, each and every character animates superbly.
The voice acting during the cutscenes is equally top notch, and nowhere will you find a poorly delivered line or a badly acted character. Sadly, where the Xbox version of TOCA 2 featured some great engine sound effects, the PC version falters quite a bit. The engine noises in this version are buggy and often become washed out in a staticky mess. This did not appear to be an issue with a sound card, as the same bad engine sounds were produced on multiple PCs. Infrequent issues also came up with certain other effects, like tire screeching or the sound of cars rolling over gravel surfaces, but these weren't anywhere near as pervasive as the engine sound bugs. It's really unfortunate that these sound issues exist, because the sound effects that do work, along with the decent background soundtrack and excellent voice acting, would otherwise make for a great audio experience.
Were it not for the slight graphical problems and irritating sound bugs, TOCA 2 could have proved to be an even better choice for PC racing fans than it was for the Xbox racing fans. Problems aside, however, TOCA 2 is still a deep and enjoyable racing title with more racing variety than you're likely to find anywhere else on the market today--and at a meager price tag to boot. It may not be quite up to the quality level of its Xbox counterpart, but TOCA 2 is still a very good choice for PC owners on the hunt for a new racer.